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EPA puts beach survey results on Web

The EPA beach health survey will help local monitoring agencies in areas like the Great Lakes region improve water quality.   

June 14, 1999
Web posted at: 1:40 p.m. EDT (1740 GMT)

The results are in from the second annual National Health Protection Survey of Beaches tallied by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The survey, part of the President Clinton's Clean Water Action Plan and the EPA Clean Water Plan, asked government agencies to collect information on local beach health. The survey results can be viewed on the EPA Beach Watch Web site.

The Beach Watch Web site provides a complete breakdown of survey results for each area surveyed. Visitors to the site can learn about monitoring procedures, closings or advisories, the monitoring agency and other results on specific coastal and recreational water areas.

EPA distributed 322 questionnaires to beach health protection agencies in 33 states requesting information on local beaches. The agency received 242 responses, of which 193 responses could be used at this time. The 193 responses included information on 1,403 beaches. The number of participants increased by almost 80 respondents, approximately a 50 percent increase over last year's survey.

The respondents were almost exclusively local governmental agencies from coastal counties, cities, or towns bordering the Great Lakes, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, although a few respondents were state or regional (multiple-county) districts.

The local agencies reported that 935 beaches have water quality monitoring programs. Of these, 67 percent check beach water quality at least once a week, if not more frequently. One-third of the beaches are monitored less than once a week and two percent of local agencies monitor only after rain or special events. Survey results also showed that a wide variety of standards are used in monitoring beach water quality.

The EPA review of 1,062 coastal beaches and the Great Lakes showed that in 1998, 350 had an advisory or closing.

While the EPA has created minimum water quality guidelines to alert local agencies to possible water pollution, not all states monitor their beaches and water recreation areas. "There are no national guidelines or criteria that require states to monitor bathing beaches," said Randy Braun, chief of monitoring operations in the EPA New Jersey office.

But water quality is taken seriously by states like New Jersey that has miles of Atlantic coastline visited by thousands of tourists each year.

"The federal guidelines are 200 fecal coliform per 100 milliliters of water based on a geometric mean of five samples collected over a 30-day period. If levels are over 200, monitoring agencies should be concerned. New Jersey has developed more stringent requirements. If we get at least one test over 200, we sample again. If that test is also over 200, it is required by state law to close that beach," said Braun. According to the survey, about 12 New Jersey beaches were closed last year.

According to Dave Rosenblatt, chief of Atlantic Coastal Bureau in the watersheds management division of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, federal legislation is being discussed to require states to do some kind of monitoring.

According to Rosenblatt, the beach survey results are a great benefit in helping agencies unite coastal water monitoring programs.

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